"Keep it up ladies!"
"We can do it!"
These are the words echoed by Alcovy High volleyball players while running laps before practice; a far cry from last season.
What a difference a year makes, and what a difference Amanda Briggs is already making.
In May, Briggs replaced Suzanne Smith as head coach of the varsity squad. Smith led the Lady Tigers to a miserable 6-60 record in two seasons, calling for a drastic change.
"To be honest, it's all for the girls," Briggs said, who was Smith's assistant coach last season. "I would not be here otherwise."
After a 6-32 record last year - a slight improvement from 0-28 in 2006 - it's a wonder why anyone wants to inherit this program.
"I'm kind of a perfectionist, so the losing thing bothers me," Briggs admitted. "But the girls wanted me to (coach). They asked me to do it repeatedly, and because they're good girls I said I would."
Briggs, a 29-year-old history teacher, grew up in central Ohio and has lived in Newton County half her life.
Before arriving to Alcovy in 2007, she was an assistant volleyball coach at Heritage High for three years. There she was encouraged by coach David Buddenbaum and learned how to build relationships with students on the extracurricular level, too, rather than strictly on the court.
As a result, she has earned the respect from her players. Wasting no time, Briggs and company began work on June 9, and have already completed three weeks of practice.
Additionally, they will have two more weeks of practice compared to last season when the Lady Tigers had just four.
"It's a good step up from last year," said senior Megan Watson. "The way we're going now in practice we should have a better overall season, especially with a new coach who knows what she's doing."
Besides attitude adjustments, another difference has been the conditioning program, something lacking a year ago. Led by assistant coach Michelle Finley, the Lady Tigers now train in the weight room twice a week.
And they recently completed a week-long camp coached by Briggs and several of her former Heritage players.
"I'm just trying to give them every opportunity that's out there," Briggs said. "If I see a volleyball opportunity I throw it at them, whether they're able to do it or not.
"My goal this year is to go into every game and be competitive (against) whoever we're playing," she added. "I don't want to lose, but there's a difference between losing while being competitive and just getting killed; those are two different things."
Though excited, at the same time Briggs is "petrified," especially since Alcovy is competing in a new class (4-AAAA) this year.
"Well, nobody has any expectations for us," she said, "but I have lots of expectations. It's good because it takes the pressure off, but the girls have a lot of potential."
So far Briggs is pleased with the turnout. Approximately 10-15 players have come to each open gym practice, which are non-mandatory sessions.
"I just want to see improvement from last year and see us succeed at real volleyball on both the junior varsity and varsity levels," Briggs said.
On Tuesday, the Lady Tigers scrimmaged against Heritage and Rockdale County at Salem High School. Of all the teams, Alcovy had the most players in attendance - 17.
"We've had more girls really trying this year than we did last year," said junior Courtney Gibbs.
Despite losing the scrimmage matches, the objective was to get everyone involved by using a new defense. And regardless of the score, the enthusiasm is there to stay because of Briggs.
"She can be hard on us at times," said senior Molly Rice, "but after we're all tired we still love her to death. She's awesome; if we're doing something wrong she'll show us (rather) than just yell at us."
Similar to last year, Alcovy is young, with just three returning varsity players.
"We're doing the basics, so we're still learning," Briggs said. "Team communication is important; we don't talk to each other on the court, and that's the biggest thing. We need to be more of a team out there."
Working together as one means knowing what to do and where to be on the court. According to Briggs, perhaps the biggest misconception about high school volleyball is positioning.
"They have to learn a lot of offensive and defensive positions," Briggs said. "It's a lot more athleticism involved than people think."
Confidence will increase in due time; however, Alcovy is still missing a player who can take charge of any situation.
"We've talked to the retuning players about getting some leadership and being more assertive," Briggs said. "It's time (for) them to believe in themselves and help these other girls."
As upperclassmen, Rice and Watson should certainly help, and have already impressed their new coach.
"They are showing some real leadership and good hands," Briggs said, "but we have some other girls who just came out (and) have been showing some phenomenal ability, too."
Despite the lack of height, blocking and hitting has also been an issue. However, players with jumping abilities such as Ashley Grant (5-foot-5) will be utilized.
After all, the past is history, and the Lady Tigers are looking forward to keeping it that way.
"This is a new season," Gibbs said, "and we're glad Coach Briggs is here. She always has a positive attitude, even if we're down."
The general consensus among players is best summarized by Gibbs:
"That we'll actually win."
Alcovy opens its season on Aug. 14. The first home match is Sept. 2.